September 11th, 2004 -- Saturday (author's note, July 2002: this story was written in early 2000; no relevence to 2001 events)
< >“You’re a damned fool, Hermione!” Percy Weasley screamed at her.
< >Hermione looked at him for a moment, then turned, and slowly walked back to her kitchen in her robe and slippers, padding down the wood-floored vestibule. Percy followed after her, slamming the front door behind him. He was shouting obscenities after her angrily, shaking a finger.
< >“Percy, for God sakes! Shut up! This is supposed to be my weekend off and I’m tired as hell!” Hermione moaned, falling into a chair at her kitchen table. She picked up her cup of coffee and sipped it gratefully with a sigh.
< >“Everyone knew that it was me who told the Times!” Percy protested, sitting down across from her.
< >Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. “And you wonder why.”
< >Percy turned red with rage and began to shake his finger at her again. “Now, listen hear, you wench, you have no right to criticize - ”
< >Hermione slapped him across the face before he could finished and he cursed, holding his hands to the side of his face, moaning. “I have every right, Percy, to say anything I want! You made that very clear just a week ago! Must I remind you of what you said?” Hermione demanded, almost yelling.
< >“No,” Percy moaned.
< >“Never disturb me while I’m having my coffee,” Hermione barked.
< >“Did you have to hit me again?” Percy groaned, cringing as he slowly lowered his hands from his face.
< >“Of course not,” Hermione sneered. “You don’t intentionally try to insult me!” She shook her head and took another sip of the bitter liquid. “Why are you here, Percy? You aren’t here, obviously, for another slap. Say your peace and leave.”
< >“There is no peace, as you say, Hermione, but I actually came here to apologize.”
< >“Could have fooled me.”
< >Percy looked away. “I know I didn’t go about it right, but . . .” He bit his lip, staring down at his feet. When he looked up finally, Hermione was surprised to see pain in his eyes. “Her - Hermione, I don’t even remember what obliterated our friendship . . . You - you were so upset about Draco . . . and you . . .”
< >“Are you trying to accuse me of something?” Hermione demanded sharply.
< >Percy shook his head sincerely. “No, but it was both of our faults . . . you and my family’s . . .” He closed his eyes. “It was only Ron and Ginny who really understood the situation . . . and whenever they tried to tell the rest of us, we wouldn’t listen.” Percy sighed and opened his eyes to look Hermione straight on. “When you visited, we all tried to convince you that you could do better, and that was our mistake . . . we didn’t understand that you could love such a person that we perceived Draco to be . . . Lucius’ son, after all . . . we thought father like son . . .”
< >“Just like you and Arthur,” Hermione muttered, looking down at her coffee.
< >Percy chuckled softly. “Exactly.” Hermione looked up, startled. “But,” he continued, “I guess you always knew he wasn’t . . .” He sighed again and avoided her eyes. “I just came here to apologize on my behalf . . . for my actions and words over the years . . . I suddenly realized what I had done . . .”
< >“Is this a stunt?” Hermione demanded hotly.
< >“Does your father know you’re here?”
< >Hermione shook her head. “You do understand why I think this is all a trick? You’re apologizing out of the blue and I just slapped you for shouting obscenities at me. It seems all rather suspicious,” she told him darkly, taking another sip of her coffee, glaring at Percy over the rim of the cup.
< >Percy looked down and nodded. “I am so sorry.”
< >Hermione didn’t answer for a while. “Please leave, Percy. I can’t just accept your apology for your cruelties and insensitivity to me over the last six years. A friend told me once ‘Only trust the trusted,’ and you are not the trusted, Percy. I am sorry.” As Percy got up to leave, she called loudly, “I’ll keep to what I said, however. I will help your father and the rest of the Ministry in any way I can to find Draco.”
< >Percy nodded solemnly and left, the front door snapping shut behind him.
< >Draco had finally mustered enough strength by the next morning, a Saturday - But of what month, what year, what day is it? he wondered - to read the other article about him that Lupin had brought him the night before.
< >“Draco Malfoy, my son, this is a plea for your return,” it read. Draco’s eyes widened with surprise as he read on. “Draco, come back, turn yourself in, please. I want to see your face again, in person, and you’ve taken your toll on society. I know that isn’t too comforting to hear from me, but you need to come out of hiding, and turn yourself in.
< >“Please, Draco, you have proven what you wanted to prove in the world, but at what cost? That you will one day be caught for your crimes? You might as well turn yourself in . . . I love you more than you could possibly know and I am just finally advising to you publicly that you should come back. So does your father. Mother.”
< >“Some rather odd articles lately, eh, Draco?” Lupin asked him as he handed Draco a cup of tea and a bowl of hot cereal.
< >Draco didn’t answer as he tossed the paper into the fire to burn. He looked up at Lupin. “My mother didn’t write that,” he whispered. “She wouldn’t. It’s my father, pulling another publicity stunt, trying to act as if he’s a good guy . . . My mother writes much better than that. That is crap. Another lie. Another reason for my father to get what he wants. If I did turn myself in, he would come out, and yell, ‘I wrote that for my wife and I, and see how it worked? Like a charm, like a charm!’ And the public would believe him . . .”
< >Lupin said nothing as he sat down with his own cup of tea.
< >Draco continued. “They would, since I’m even more dangerous, supposedly than he is anymore! What a laugh! That man would kill everyone in the world, just to prove that he could! He is a lying cheating scum and - oh God . . . no better than me . . . I am no better than him . . . I am him!”
< >Lupin set a comforting hand on Draco’s knees, looking the young man directly in the eyes. “No, you’re not,” he told Draco solemnly. “You’re far from it, Draco, just keep telling yourself that. All right? You are nothing like your father, believe me, nothing at all.”
< >Draco closed his eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered.
< >Saying nothing, Lupin got to his feet, and disappeared into the forest, and Draco cried. He didn’t know why he did, but he did, and for a long while. Again, everything around him was hitting with him with such force that he wanted to melt into the forest, never to be seen again, and let himself cry forever.
< >Lupin came back an hour later, finding Draco curled up in a ball, against “his tree,” quietly watching the forest around him. He said nothing to Lupin as the older man refilled Draco’s teacup and cleaned up Draco’s breakfast.
< >“You really are going to have to stop feeling sorry for yourself,” Lupin told Draco pointedly as he boiled water over the small fire.
< >“And let myself not feel sorry for myself? Fat chance,” Draco laughed bitterly.
< >Lupin laughed. “Seriously, though, Draco. Feeling sorry for yourself all the time isn’t healthy.”
< >“Neither is crime,” Draco snapped. “Or murder.”
< >“You haven’t murdered anyone.”
< >“I doubt that is a crime to anyone but yourself. You aren’t dead.”
< >“On the outside I’m not.”
< >“If you can cry and feel as miserable as you think you are, you’re not dead,” Lupin replied.
< >“When did you become an expert on me, Lupin?” Draco demanded.
< >Lupin threw back his head and laughed. “I believe most people are, Draco.”
< >“There goes more self-enthusiasm,” Draco sniffed, turning his head to look into the lush, green trees, “and any way of pleading that I never killed anyone. Society believes they know me too much and they assume that such a mean person is capable of murder and most will believe them.”
< >“I don’t. Hermione doesn’t.”
< >“I said most,” Draco said darkly.
< >Lupin turned around and straightened so he could look down at Draco. “Why don’t you turn yourself in?” he asked defiantly.
< >Draco’s eyes narrowed menacingly. “To prove people like my father and Arthur Weasley wrong.” He pulled himself to his feet and looked Lupin in the eye. “I will not lower my own self standards to their petty levels. I will not let them think what they want to think, because it is all lies. I never took a life, but I have questioned my own. If I have not made myself clear, please tell me so, Professor Lupin so I can start over and make myself even more clear!”
< >Lupin glared back at him. “A man who would consider taking his own life is no weaker a man than a man who hides in a forest for years, afraid of the world around him,” he growled, holding his hands at his side in tight balls.
< >“You are not weak, Lupin,” Draco said.
< >“And neither are you.”